Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Doctors could wreck waiting list policy
Hospital workloads are rising
Hospital consultants are ready to ditch the extra work involved in meeting government waiting list targets unless ministers acknowledge and reward the increase in their workload.
A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of hospital doctors found that the move - which would seriously embarrass the government - would have widespread support.
Consultants are fed up with the growing workload burden they say they have to shoulder as emergency admissions and demands on their time increase.
The finding comes on the eve of publication of waiting list figures that are expected to show the government has met its target of knocking 100,000 off the total it inherited in May 1997.
Many doctors said waiting list initiatives were irrelevant to good patient care.
More consider strike action
The BMA carried out the survey to gauge its members' current attitudes to working practice before it negotiates a new contract for consultants with the Department of Health.
Unlike junior doctors, hospital consultants have traditionally shied away from such militant talk.
But Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the BMA's consultants committee, said he was not surprised by the number of doctors who would consider such action.
He said he would have been 12 months ago, but the government's treatment of doctors - especially the withholding of £50m recommended by the doctors' pay review body - had knocked morale.
'System may crash'
The survey found that half of all consultant surgeons and anaesthetists would be willing to withdraw from waiting list initiative work if the government failed to acknowledge their growing workload.
Dr Hawker warned that the strain on senior doctors was putting the NHS at risk of collapse.
"Workload now is reaching the stage where it is unsustainable. I'm seriously worried that we're reaching the stage where patient care is going to suffer."
He said emergency admissions in particular were rising, and doctors were dealing with so many cases that they could not provide a proper service.
"Anyone can be a mechanistic technician - but we're supposed to be doctors," he said.
"We can't go on sustaining this and what will happen is the system will crash."
Strike action 'unlikely'
On the question of striking, he said the survey had produced an "interesting" finding, but there was unlikely to be any action.
Instead, he called on the government to "end the bean-counting and focus on waiting times".
"Most patients are happy to sit on waiting lists if they know that sicker patients are being seen first," he said.
Dr Hawker was speaking at the BMA's senior hospital staff conference.
The conference earlier agreed that the government's attitude to doctors was demoralising and needed to be adjusted.
Dr Hawker said: "The sad thing is that at times the relationship seems to be ploughing into the ground.
"But we do have to work with the government and the government has to work with us."
The BMA's junior doctors hold their conference on Friday, and will vote on whether or not to ballot for industrial action.